The Freedom to Oppress


We now have a more equal military. Following along the path embarked upon by the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which barred gays from openly serving, women may now be deployed into combat positions. This was, naturally, lauded as “groundbreaking” in the liberal press; AP’s Robert Burns, who broke the story, reported, “ [the decision comes] just days after President Barack Obama’s inaugural speech, in which he spoke passionately about equal rights for all.” But is this something to be celebrated–and does it truly serve the dual ends of equality and liberation?

On one hand, the move can be looked on in a positive light if we view the military as simply a workplace where women will now be able to more easily climb the ladder–the Pentagon’s decision was influenced by lawsuits filed by female soldiers who claimed the ban was holding their careers back. There is also the the view that the combat ban was part and parcel with the wider societal stereotyping of women as the “fairer sex,” that is, weaker and less able bodied–less suited to rigorous conditions demanded by war. Furthering this, the AP report was quick to point out that no women has successfully been able to complete the Marine Corp’s tough infantry course. But does this decision necessarily right the wrongs of workplace equality and gender stereotypes? To answer such questions, we need to understand how change–liberation–is achieved, and possibly more importantly, what role the military serves in an imperialist nation.

In Engels’s introduction to Marx’s Class Struggle in France–what would be his final work–he was quick to affirm the Marxist position on revolution, writing “Further insurrections would… be carried out by large masses of the people in a stormy offensive against the military authority of the enemy.” The essay was heavily censored by the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), itself the breeding ground for the revisionist tendency that would lead to the breakup of the Second International during World War I. Rosa Luxemburg fought for the militant position from within the party, and the leaders–particularly Eduard Bernstein and later Karl Kautsky–became the targets of the writings revolutionaries in other sections of the international, notably Lenin, whose Bolshevik party led the initially peaceful, but eventually bloody Russian revolution. In the indispensable Reform or Revolution, written in 1900 as a response to the SPD’s, and particularly Bernstein’s, position, Luxemburg makes it clear: Continue reading